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DEATH PENALTY: Arab League Asked to Intervene

Sanjay Suri

LONDON, Oct 10 2011 (IPS) - Campaigners from around the world have called upon the Arab League and on the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights to explore the possibility of adopting regional protocols to abolish the death penalty.

The campaigners adopted a resolution following a meeting organised by Penal Reform International (PRI) last month that was attended by more than 100 campaigners and government and civil society representatives from around the world.

The campaigners called for the Arab League and the African group to intervene “in recognition of the important role that regional and inter-regional government bodies play in forming standards and norms”.

The resolution called upon the Arab League also to “amend Article 7 of the Arab Charter for Human Rights to absolutely prohibit the sentencing to death and execution of those under the age of 18 at the time of the commission of the crime.”

“The London Declaration, which was adopted unanimously by over 100 participants at PRI’s conference, including governmental and civil society representatives from abolitionist and retentionist countries across almost all regions of the world, is seen as a great achievement to the abolitionist community,” Jacqueline Macalesher, death penalty project manager for PRI, told IPS.

“Endorsements from organisations will follow, however the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office have already agreed to endorse this declaration.”

PRI hopes that “this London Declaration will build upon the current momentum toward moratorium and abolition at the global level,” Macalesher said. “It echoes the determination of the human rights community to move towards universal abolition.”

The declaration, she said, “will be used as a new tool in the abolitionist’s toolbox in their advocacy efforts to encourage retentionist states to implement minimum standards, a moratorium on executions and sentencing and to move towards full abolition in law.

“It also makes an important statement that those states that have abolished the death penalty should only implement alternative sanctions, such as life or long-term imprisonment, that are fair, proportionate and respect international human rights standards.”

The declaration noted that there is no convincing evidence that the death penalty deters criminal behaviour any more effectively than other punishments. It said that “where the death penalty is retained at all, it should only be imposed for the ‘most serious crimes’, and after a fair trial has been granted to the accused.”

While calling for full abolition, the campaigners said that if at all used, the death penalty should only be applied to crimes that lead to loss of life.

The resolution points out that “the death penalty creates additional victims – the family members of those who have been executed – who are often forgotten, marginalised or stigmatised by society.” It says that “the essential aim of the penitentiary system should be the ‘reformation and social rehabilitation’ of prisoners.”

The resolution says mandatory death sentences should be abolished, and sentencing guidelines established for capital cases where there are none.

Participants who attended the PRI conference, and who backed the resolution, included government officials and representatives of civil society and inter-governmental organisations from 31 countries (Algeria, Armenia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Belarus, Belgium, Canada, China, France, Georgia, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Morocco, Nigeria, Poland, Qatar, Russia, Switzerland, Syria, Tajikistan, Tanzania, Tunisia, Turkey, Uganda, Ukraine, United Kingdom and United States).

The resolution said states must “prohibit the use of the death penalty against juveniles, persons who were juveniles at the time when the crime was committed, pregnant women, mothers with young children, and those suffering from mental disabilities,” and “provide training for judges and professionals working in the criminal justice system to ensure they are fully aware of the relevant international standards relating to the death penalty.”

It called upon those states that have an official or de facto moratorium on executions, or a partial abolition, to establish a moratorium on sentencing, commute sentences for prisoners on death row, taking into consideration the time already spent in prison, and “take the necessary steps through legislative or constitutional reforms to abolish – in law the death penalty for all crimes”.

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